UCLA and Texas A&M announced last week a home-and-home series that will open the 2016 and 2017 seasons, taking a step toward a Pac-12 and SEC crossover that needs to become a trend.
The nonconference dates power conference programs set in the coming years will shape the course of the College Football Playoff era, and as arguably the two strongest conferences collectively, the Pac-12 and SEC are the right ones to be the forerunners.
Piling up wins versus strength of schedule: which will the committee favor when selecting the four participants in the new postseason? UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero is banking on the latter.
"Facing tough non-conference competition is a necessity with the new playoff system beginning this year," Guerrero said, per UCLABruins.com.
The Bruins are buying fully into that philosophy, with a smattering of nonconference dates against the other four power conferences already sprinkled throughout their immediate future schedules.
The addition of Texas A&M gives UCLA a matchup with the SEC, in addition to dates against the Big 12—Oklahoma in 2018 and 2019 and Texas next season—and the Big Ten, with scheduled games against Michigan (2022, 2023) and Rutgers (2020, 2021).
All power conference-nonconference games are a boon for the sport, but the rare Pac-12-SEC affairs are especially intriguing, in part because they occur so sparingly both in the regular season and postseason.
Beyond the Auburn-Oregon showdown in the 2011 BCS Championship Game—an outstanding back-and-forth contest won on Michael Dyer's highlight-reel rush—there has been only one other bowl pairing between the two conferences in the last quarter-century, as B/R SEC maven Barrett Sallee notes:
Nonconference meetings are not quite as rare. There were two in the 2013 season, with Oregon routing Tennessee and Auburn outlasting Washington State in Gus Malzahn's debut as the Tigers' head coach.
However, marquee matchups such as UCLA-Texas A&M are conspicuously absent. The losing team in each of this year's Pac-12 vs. SEC games finished below .500. Since routing Auburn in 2003 and Arkansas in 2005 and 2006, USC has yet to play another SEC opponent.
Aside from the 2011 season opener pitting eventual conference champions LSU and Oregon against each other, the quality has been lacking. Considering these are the two best leagues, that is unacceptable.
The SEC established itself as the preeminent conference throughout the BCS years. As the system neared its end, the Pac-12 began gaining ground. Collectively, 2013 was the best season in Pac-12 history.
Half the league's members finished the campaign ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 Poll—the same percentage as the SEC. Five Pac-12 teams won 10 games or more—the same number that reached that mark in the SEC.
UCLA was among both groups and is positioning itself for long-term success under head coach Jim Mora. The same is true for Texas A&M, which compiled a 20-6 record in its first two seasons as an SEC member with Kevin Sumlin at the helm.
Indeed, these are two prime candidates to take up the banner for future Pac-12-SEC matchups, and each doing so is fitting. UCLA is one of three programs to never play a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, joining Notre Dame and rival USC.
Texas A&M takes on the UCLA series, rectifying cancelled dates with USC and Oregon that were brokered while it was still a member of the Big 12. Athletic director Eric Hyman explained the cancellations to The Houston Chronicle in May 2013:
[H]aving switched from the Big 12 to the SEC, we've had to scrub our whole schedule - throw it almost out. Going forward, we've had conversations with people, but we really can't be contractually (obligated) until the conference says you've got the green light.
The UCLA series and a neutral field showdown with Arizona State to open 2015 prove Texas A&M will take on strong Pac-12 opponents when given that green light.
Now that the light is green for the Aggies, more traffic from the SEC will hopefully flow to the West and vice versa.